Sweet & Salty Millionaire’s Layer Cake

Hello, hello! After many, many months of devoted book creating, I’m excited to be back here with you, blogging on a regular basis! I’m also incredibly eager to share my book with you all, once it’s printed and released–it has been, wow, an incredible learning experience. It’s still kind of surreal to me that a book with my name on it will actually exist. A dream come true, for certain.

So . . . cake! And not just cake–the most decadent sweet & salty cake you could ever imagine. I call this layer cake “Sweet & Salty Millionaire’s Layer Cake” because it is my take on those ridiculously addicting Millionaire’s Bars–you know the ones: buttery shortbread topped with gooey caramel and a layer of rich, shiny chocolate. If that doesn’t beg to become a layer cake, I don’t know what does.

So I baked up 3 layers of dark, moist chocolate cake, torted them into a total of 6 thinner layers, and then filled them with vanilla bean Swiss meringue buttercream, homemade salted caramel, buttery shortbread crumble and dark chocolate ganache frosting. To finish it off, we smother the whole thing in a generous layer of more dark chocolate ganache frosting and a sprinkling of Fleur de Sel. I find that the satiny vanilla bean buttercream really balances out the intensity of the dark chocolate and sweet and salty caramel, and the shortbread adds an amazing melt-in-your-mouth textural surprise.

The ganache frosting is essentially a typical ganache (an emulsion of dark chocolate and heavy cream), but with some corn syrup and butter added in to keep it luscious and glossy and a pinch of sea salt to celebrate our love for sweet & salty.  I used a really dark chocolate this time, at 70% cocoa solids, but you could use any quality dark chocolate with at least 53% cocoa solids. I was almost out of the usual dark chocolate callets I love to use from Callebaut, so I bought 2 ginormous (300 grams each) premium chocolate bars, chopped them up and tossed in 100 grams of the chocolate callets I had left. With the super-sweetness of the caramel, I love the deep, dark chocolate frosting.

The 3-ingredient shortbread component is so quick and easy, and these bits & boulders of buttery love are just what this cake needed to really pay homage to the Millionaire’s Bars it was inspired by. Heck, they would even make an amazing little ice cream topping, along with the salted caramel perhaps? The salted caramel is so much easier to make than you might think and, as you might imagine, it can be used for so many things–pancakes, waffles, dipping apples, and more. You don’t have to “salt” it, but I feel it really heightens the natural caramel flavour and added vanilla.

One thing I’ve discovered is that when making ganache of any kind, an immersion hand blender (you know, the “stick” type hand blenders) works best to create perfectly homogenous ganache that won’t threaten to separate and become grainy. You can certainly use a whisk, but if you have an immersion blender I feel it works just that much better. I included 2 layers of ganache in the cake layers because I felt that 5 layers of caramel could be a little much, but maybe I’m crazy. So you could always keep the ganache as the frosting and fill all of the layers with the buttercream, caramel and shortbread. I’m thinking there’s no wrong way of doing this, you know?

So, here’s the recipe for this sweet & salty Millionaire’s Layer Cake along with a quick list of the layer-pattern of this cake:

cake
buttercream + caramel + shortbread
cake
ganache
cake
buttercream + caramel + shortbread
cake
ganache
cake
buttercream + caramel + shortbread
cake

Millionaire’s Layer Cake

Yield: One 6-layer, 8-inch round cake

Dark moist chocolate cake filled with satiny vanilla bean buttercream, homemade salted caramel, buttery shortbread crumble, dark chocolate ganache and frosted with more ganache and a sprinkling of sea salt.

Ingredients

    For the Chocolate Cake:
  • 2 1/4 cups (285 g) all-purpose flour
  • 2 1/4 cups (450 g) superfine sugar
  • 3/4 cup (90 g) dark Dutch-process cocoa powder (I use Cacao Barry Extra Brute)
  • 2 1/4 teaspoons (10 g) baking soda
  • 2 1/4 teaspoons (10 g) baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon (8 g) salt
  • 1 cup (240 mL) buttermilk
  • 3/4 cup (180 mL) brewed coffee or espresso, hot
  • 1/3 cup (80 ml) vegetable oil
  • 3 eggs, room temperature
  • 1 tablespoons (15 mL) pure vanilla extract
  • For the Vanilla Bean Swiss Meringue Buttercream:
  • 6 egg whites
  • 1 3/4 cups (350 g) sugar
  • 2 cups (454 g) unsalted butter, softened, cut into cubes
  • 2 teaspoons (10 ml) vanilla bean paste or 1 vanilla bean, seeded and scraped
  • Pinch of salt
  • For the Salted Caramel:
  • 2 cups (400 g) sugar
  • 1/2 cup (120 ml) water
  • 1 cup (240 ml) heavy cream (whipping cream)
  • 2 tablespoons (30 g) unsalted butter
  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract or vanilla bean paste
  • Generous pinch of sea salt (I used Fleur de Sel)
  • For the Shortbread Crumbs:
  • 1 cup (125 g) all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup (50 g) sugar
  • 1/2 cup (115 g) unsalted butter, softened, cut into cubes
  • For the Ganache Frosting:
  • 1 pound plus 6 ounces (700 g) best-quality dark chocolate (at least 53% cocoa solids), chopped or callets
  • 2 cups (480 ml) heavy cream (whipping cream)
  • 1/3 cup (110 g) corn syrup
  • 1/4 teaspoon sea salt
  • 8 tablespoons (120 g) unsalted butter, cut into cubes
  • 1 tablespoon (15 ml) pure vanilla extract

Instructions

    For the Chocolate Cake:
  1. Preheat oven to 350° F. Spray three 8-inch round cake pans with cooking spray and line the bottoms with parchment paper rounds.
  2. Into the bowl of electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, sift flour, sugar, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder and salt.
  3. In a large measuring cup with a spout, combine the buttermilk, coffee, oil, eggs and vanilla.
  4. Add liquid mixture to dry ingredients and mix on medium speed until smooth, about 1 minute. Divide batter among the 3 cake pans (weigh batter for even layers at about 520 grams per cake pan).
  5. Bake 2 of the layers until a toothpick or skewer inserted into the center comes out with a few crumbs, about 20-25 minutes. Try not to over-bake. Repeat with the final layer. Let cakes cool in the pans for 10 minutes and then turn onto a wire rack until completely cool.
  6. For the Vanilla Bean Swiss Meringue Buttercream:
  7. Wipe the bowl and whisk of an electric mixer with paper towel and lemon juice, to remove any trace of grease. Add egg whites and sugar, and simmer over a pot of water (not boiling), whisking constantly but gently, until temperature reaches 130°F, or if you don't have a candy thermometer, until the sugar has completely dissolved and the egg whites are hot, about 8-10 minutes.
  8. Place bowl back on mixer and fit with the whisk attachment. Whip on medium-high speed until the meringue is thick, glossy, and the bottom of the bowl feels neutral to the touch (this can take up to 10 minutes, or longer). Switch over to paddle attachment and, with mixer on low speed, add softened butter in chunks until incorporated, and mix until it has reached a silky smooth texture (if curdles, keep mixing and it will come back to smooth). Increase speed to medium and beat until the mixture becomes thick and fluffy, about 2 minutes.
  9. Add vanilla bean paste and salt, continuing to beat on low speed until well combined.
  10. You can also add a wide variety of flavourings, extracts, and more, but always add the vanilla first, as it brings out the true taste of the other flavours. Keep in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 1 day, refrigerated for up to 1 week, or in the freezer for up to 2 months. Thaw at room temperature. Bring chilled buttercream back to smooth consistency by bringing to room temperature and then beating on low speed with an electric mixer for a few minutes.
  11. For the Salted Caramel:
  12. In a medium saucepan over medium heat, stir the sugar and water until combined. Brush down the sides of the saucepan with a wet pastry brush and increase the heat to medium-high.
  13. Stop stirring, and let the mixture bubble until it reaches an amber colour (about 350°F). Promptly remove the saucepan from the heat and whisk in the heavy cream (be careful, as this will bubble and steam aggressively for a moment) until smooth, followed by the butter.
  14. Clip a candy thermometer onto the saucepan and return the mixture to medium-high heat until it reaches 248°F). Transfer the caramel to the heatproof bowl and stir in the vanilla and sea salt. As the caramel reaches room temperature it will become thick and spreadable. Store in a sealed jar in refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.
  15. For the Shortbread Crumbs:
  16. Preheat oven to 350°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a Silpat mat.
  17. In a medium bowl, combine the flour and sugar. Cut in the butter using a pastry blender or your fingers, until you have distributed the butter and achieved pea-size bits. Turn the mixture in an even layer onto the prepared baking sheet and bake for 10 minutes. Remove the tray from the oven and, using a heatproof spatula, gently break up the mixture and return to the oven for 10 more minutes. Let tray cool completely on a wire rack. Once cool, keep in an airtight container for up to 2 weeks.
  18. For the Ganache Frosting:
  19. Place chopped chocolate (or callets) in a large heatproof mixing bowl (I find a stainless 5QT mixer bowl works well).
  20. In a medium saucepan over medium heat, combine the cream, corn syrup and salt and bring just to a boil. Pour hot cream mixture over the chocolate and let sit for about 1 minute. Using an immersion blender (or whisk, if necessary) combine the chocolate mixture until smooth. Add butter and vanilla and mix again until smooth. Mixture with thicken to spreadable frosting consistency, and eventually become solid at room temperature. To soften, simply warm and bring to desired consistency.
  21. Assembly of the Sweet & Salty Millionaire's Layer Cake:
  22. Prepare your fillings and frosting and ensure they are all at spreadable consistency. For the ganache, this will take about 15-30 minutes after making it, and about 30-60 minutes for the caramel. If you have made ahead, simply warm the ganache and let cool until spreadable, and do the same for the caramel.
  23. Slice all three cake layers in half horizontally, so you have a total of 6 cake layers.
  24. Smear a small dollop of the ganache frosting on a cake plate, pedestal or cake board, and place your first layer cut side up (so bottom of the cake layer is touching plate), and using a small offset palette knife, spread about 1 cup of buttercream on the layer leaving about 1-inch around the edge, followed by one-third of the caramel and then a generous handful of shortbread crumble. Place your next cake layer on top, and spread about 1 cup of the ganache frosting all the way to the edge.
  25. Repeat previous step until you get to the final cake layer. Place last layer face down (cut side down) and frost entire cake with the ganache frosting. Let sit for about 15 minutes and then finish with a thick "coat" of more ganache frosting.
  26. Use a turntable and palette knife to create texture (as in photo)--use one hand to turn the turntable and hold the palette knife in the other hand. Keep palette knife in place and let the turntable do the moving. Use a small offset palette knife to create texture on the top of the cake and sprinkle on some Fleur de Sel. Finished cake can be kept at room temperature for up to 8 hours. Keep refrigerated if longer than 8 hours, but serve at room temperature.
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Sweetapolita’s Notes:

  • For the chocolate cake layers, I used Cacao Barry Extra Brute Dutch-process cocoa powder, but you can use any quality dark Dutch-process variety of your choice.
  • I have become rather fond of using vanilla bean paste instead of actual vanilla beans, as it’s convenient and more affordable.
  • When you make the ganache frosting, you’ll notice that it’s a bit jiggly and gelatinous looking as it sets, but as soon as you being to spread it, it becomes smooth, glossy and glorious.
  • Most cake does best at room temperature in terms of staying moist and fresh, but when it comes to building layer cakes, sometimes there’s no choice but to pop it in and out of the fridge a few times to stabilize it (especially when you get into sky-scraping layer cakes). That being said, I recommend only putting most cakes the fridge between the crumb coat and final coat of frosting, or if you feel that things are getting a little wobbly and you want to firm it up before carrying on. For this cake, I didn’t refrigerate it at all, so you will likely find that you won’t need to either. I was able to avoid the fridge between the crumb coat and final coat of ganache frosting because it begins to dry out at room temperature, sealing all of the crumbs.

Good luck & enjoy!

Related posts:

Lemon Meringue Delight Cake

Lemon Delight Cake via Sweetapolita

Have you ever noticed that the best thing to pair with lemon seems to be . . . lemon? Every time I make a lemon cake or cupcake, aside from my occasional frolic with lavender and lemon or blueberry and lemon, all I want to do is add more lemon zest, lemon juice, lemon extract, lemon filling, lemon topping, lemon curd, lemon frosting and lemon buttercream. Lemon!

Lemon Delight Cake via Sweetapolita

During some of my recent baking in preparation for my sister-in-law’s baby shower, I did some lemon cupcakes filled with lemon curd and topped with lemon frosting, and I realized that I haven’t made a completely lemony layer cake in a long time. It was definitely time. And wait! Before you scroll down and read the recipe, just know that there are a few components in this cake that do take some time, but don’t let that scare you away — most of this cake can be made up to a few weeks ahead of time, so the actual assembly of the cake really is pretty quick and simple.

So what is a Lemon Meringue Delight Cake? It’s three layers of moist, lemony sponge cake filled with homemade lemon curd, lemon curd Swiss meringue buttercream and baked meringue discs, and frosted in more lemon curd Swiss meringue buttercream, topped with more lemon curd, swirls of buttercream, baked meringue swirls and lemon drop candy. In other words, a lotta lemony loveliness.

Lemon Delight Cake via Sweetapolita

A lemon party of sorts.

Lemon Meringue Milkshake via Sweetapolita

Remember these Lemon Meringue Milkshake & Mini Swirl Meringues? I make those little swirl meringues often, and I thought they’d make perfect little lemon cake decorations, so I just made them a bit bigger and a tad more swirly for this cake. In this particular recipe I did the meringues with a Swiss meringue method (heating the sugar and egg whites over a pot of simmering water until they reach 140-160°F and then whipping them in the mixer), but you can also do them with a traditional French meringue method (whisking the room temperature/warm egg whites in the mixer until they become foamy, then adding the sugar gradually, beating until stiff peaks form). I found, though, that the Swiss version seems to bake very glossy and the French meringue bakes a little more matte. The ones I used on the cake ended up being the French version, but I made some last night using the Swiss method and they were so nice and glossy. (They seem to taste the same either way.)

Baked meringues have my heart because, aside from their addictive sweet, light and crispy-ness, you can make a big batch and keep them airtight for weeks, making them ideal for topping cakes or cupcakes. And, of course, for random snacking. I thought it would be fun to make a few larger discs and put them right on top of the lemon curd filling in the cake, so when you’re taking lemony cake bites you hit little bursts of lemon meringue surprises along the way.

Lemon Delight Cake via Sweetapolita

Lemon Delight Cake via Sweetapolita

Lemon Meringue Delight Cake via Sweetapolita

Lemon = Happy.

Again, I know the recipe looks a little daunting because of all of the components, but if you do a bit ahead of time, it really is a joy to make. Keep remaining lemon curd in an airtight container in the freezer for a zippy addition to pancakes, muffins, scones and more  – you’ll thank me! ♥

Lemon Meringue Delight Cake

Yield: One 3-layer, 8-inch round cake

Serving Size: 8-10

Three layers of moist lemon sponge cake filled with lemon curd and crisp baked meringue cookies and topped with lemon curd buttercream, more lemon curd and baked meringue swirls.

Ingredients

    For the Baked Meringue Swirls/Discs:
  • 3 egg whites (90 g)
  • 3/4 cup (150 g) sugar
  • A drop soft gel paste color, yellow
  • You will also need:
  • A large pastry bag
  • Decorating tip #1A
  • A small paintbrush
  • For the Lemon Curd:
  • 4 lemons (or 6 Meyer lemons), preferably organic
  • 2 whole eggs plus 4 egg yolks (set whites aside for buttercream)
  • 1 cup sugar (200 g)
  • 4 tablespoons (60 g) unsalted butter, at room temperature and cut into small even cubes
  • For the Lemon Swiss Meringue Buttercream:
  • 7 egg whites (210 g)
  • 1-1/2 cups (300 g) sugar
  • Pinch of salt
  • 2 cups (454 g) unsalted butter, softened and cut into cubes
  • 1/4 cup (60 ml) lemon curd
  • 1 teaspoon (5 ml) pure vanilla extract
  • Few drops of soft gel paste colour, yellow (I used electric yellow)
  • For the Lemon Cake:
  • 3/4 cup (170 g) unsalted butter, softened
  • 2 cups (400 g) sugar
  • 6 eggs, separated
  • 2 cups (270 g) all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 teaspoon (4 g) baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon(4 g) salt
  • 2 tablespoons (30 ml) lemon juice
  • 2 teaspoons (10 ml) pure vanilla extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon (2.75 ml) lemon extract
  • 2 tablespoons (30 ml) lemon zest
  • 3/4 cup (180 ml) plain yogurt, at room temperature
  • baked meringue swirls, for decorating
  • lemon drop candy, for decorating

Instructions

    For the Baked Meringue Swirls/Discs:
  1. Preheat oven to 200°F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper and set aside. Wipe the bowl of an electric mixer and the whisk attachment with paper towel and lemon juice, to remove any trace of grease.
  2. Add egg whites and sugar to the mixer bowl and fit onto the top of a medium saucepan filled with about 1-inch of simmering (not boiling) water. (Be sure the bottom of your bowl is not touching the water.) Whisk constantly but gently, until temperature reaches 140°F, or if you don’t have a candy thermometer, until the sugar has completely dissolved and the egg whites are hot.
  3. Dry the underside of the mixer bowl and transfer to your stand mixer. Whip using the whisk attachment until the meringue is thick and glossy and has reached the stiff peak stage.
  4. While the meringue is whipping in the mixer, fit your decorating bag with a plain round pastry tip. Fold over a cuff at the top of the pastry bag and paint 3, equally-spaced, thin lines of yellow gel colour using your fine paint brush (you can use any paint brush, but it should only be one you designate for food) from the pastry tip up toward the cuff.
  5. Fill the bag with your meringue (no more than 2/3 full) and pipe 1-1/2-inch swirls onto one of the lined baking sheets, spacing them about 1-inch apart. (These will be used to decorate top of cake). On the second baking sheet, pipe the remaining meringue into flat discs, about 2-inches in diameter, spacing them about 1" apart. (These will be used on top of the filling inside the assembled cake.)
  6. Bake for 60 minutes, rotating the trays after 30 minutes. Lower the oven to 175°F and bake until dry, about 40 minutes more. Keep in an airtight container until needed.
  7. For the Lemon Curd:
  8. Wash lemons really well (with a bristled brush under cold water) and using a zester, remove all of the coloured portion of the peel from the fruit (not the white pith–it’s bitter!) into a bowl or onto a piece of wax paper. Rotate fruit as necessary to get as much of the zest off. Repeat until you have 2 teaspoons (30 ml) of the zest, and set aside.
  9. Slice the lemons in half crosswise (I find room temperature citrus is best for juicing) using a sharp knife, and extract as much of the juice as you can using a citrus reamer, or I use a small, manual citrus juicer. (Just be sure to catch all of the juice in a bowl and to completely strain the seeds before using.) Repeat the juicing until you have 2/3 cup (160 ml) of the strained juice.
  10. Get your double boiler ready by filling a saucepan with 1″ of water, then placing a metal bowl on top of the saucepan. You will need to ensure the bowl fits snugly into the top of the saucepan and that the bottom of the bowl doesn’t touch the water (important, or your eggs will cook). You can now remove the bowl and continue with making the curd.
  11. Whisk the juice, whole eggs, egg yolks and sugar in the bowl until smooth. Add the butter cubes to the bowl, but don’t stir.
  12. Heat the water in the saucepan over low heat until it simmers (not boils) and place the bowl atop the rim. Stirring gently, but constantly, using heatproof spatula or wooden spoon, cook until the curd has thickened and all of the butter has melted and is incorporated, about 10 minutes (this can vary). To test if the curd is thick enough, remove the spatula or spoon from the curd and check that it’s coated.
  13. Strain the curd over a bowl using a fine-mesh sieve and then stir in the zest. Cover with plastic wrap pressed directly against the curd (to prevent a skin from forming) and chill for at least 3 hours (I like to chill it overnight). It also thickens up a bit more while chilling. Keep refrigerated.
  14. For the Lemon Swiss Meringue Buttercream:
  15. Wipe the bowl of an electric mixer with paper towel and lemon juice, to remove any trace of grease. Add egg whites, sugar and salt, and simmer over a pot of water (not boiling), whisking constantly but gently, until temperature reaches 160°F, or if you don't have a candy thermometer, until the sugar has completely dissolved and the egg whites are hot.
  16. With whisk attachment of mixer, begin to whip until the meringue is thick, glossy, and the bottom of the bowl feels neutral to the touch (this can take up to 10 minutes or so). *Don't begin adding butter until the bottom of the bowl feels neutral, and not warm.
  17. Switch over to paddle attachment and, with mixer on low speed, add butter cubes, one at a time, until incorporated. Increase mixer speed to medium and whip until it has reached a silky smooth texture (if curdles, keep mixing and it will come back to smooth). *If mixture is too runny, refrigerate for about 15 minutes and continue mixing with paddle attachment until it comes together. Add lemon curd and vanilla, continuing to beat on medium speed until well combined. Add yellow soft gel paste colour until desired shade of yellow is achieved.
  18. For the Lemon Cake:
  19. Preheat oven to 350°F (180°C). Grease, line with parchment and flour three round 8-inch pans. I use Parchment Paper Circles for ease. In the bowl of a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream butter and 1 cup (200 g) of the sugar on medium high speed until very pale and fluffy, about 5 minutes. In a medium bowl, sift flour, baking soda and salt. Set aside.
  20. Lower mixer speed to medium low and add the egg yolks, one at a time, scraping the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula after each addition. Add lemon juice, vanilla, lemon extract and lemon zest and beat until incorporated, about 30 seconds. With mixer running, add dry ingredients. Add yogurt, scraping down the sides of the bowl to make sure everything is well incorporated.
  21. In another grease-free bowl, (or if you're lucky enough to have another mixer bowl) whip egg whites and remaining cup of sugar until they reach stiff peak stage. Fold meringue into batter until just combined, and divide batter evenly among the three prepared pans. Use a digital kitchen scale to weigh pans to ensure even layers, if possible (425 g of batter for each layer).
  22. Bake first two layers 2" apart in center of oven on top of a baking sheet until a cake tester comes clean when inserted into the center, about 25 minutes. Be careful to not over-bake -- check cake at 20 minutes, but not before, and once you feel it’s almost ready, set the timer for 2 minute intervals. Repeat with final cake layer. Let cool on racks for 10 minutes before loosening the sides with a small metal spatula, and invert onto greased wire racks. Gently turn cakes back up, so the tops are up and cool completely.
  23. Wrap tightly and store at room temperature for up to 2 days, refrigerator for up to 5 days, or frozen for up to 2 months. Best enjoyed day 1 or 2.
  24. Assembly of the Lemon Delight Layer Cake:
  25. Trim any doming or top crust and side crust from cake layers using a very sharp serrated knife (I use the Mac Bread Knife for all of my cake trimming, splitting, etc.).
  26. Use a cake turntable for filling, frosting and decorating, if a possible. Place a small dollop of frosting in the center of a cake plate or 8″ round thin foil-covered cake board, and place the bottom cake layer on top, trimmed side up (face up).
  27. Pipe a dam (a rim around the top perimeter of the cake layer) of lemon curd buttercream around the cake layer using a large round Pastry Tip fitted inside a Decorating Bag. Then pipe another smaller circle of buttercream a few inches toward the center. Spoon lemon curd into the open spaces and spread evenly with a small offset palette knife, taking care to keep the curd within the dam (otherwise it will ooze out of the sides of the cake). Gently place cover the filling with a layer of the flat baked meringue discs, breaking them into smaller pieces if necessary to cover most of the layer.
  28. Repeat with second cake layer and more buttercream, lemon curd and meringue discs. Place final cake layer, trimmed side down. Look straight down from above cake and be sure the layers are all lined up, shifting gently if necessary. Cover with plastic wrap and chill for at least 30 minutes.
  29. Remove from fridge and put a generous scoop of buttercream on top, spreading evenly with a small offset palette knife and working your way down the sides until you have a thin layer of frosting over the entire cake (crumb-coat). Chill until set, another 30 minutes.
  30. Remove from refrigerator and covering the cake in another layer of buttercream, but this time using a thicker layer of buttercream and creating a smooth finish.
  31. For the top of the cake, using your decorating bag fitted with the large round tip , 2/3 full with buttercream, pipe 8 small swirls, evenly spaced. Top each swirl with a baked meringue swirls, and fill the spaces in between with lemon drop candy. Gently spoon a layer of lemon curd on top of the cake, using a toothpick to pull the curd to the inside edges of the candy and swirls.
  32. Store finished cake covered in refrigerator (due to the lemon curd filling), but serve at room temperature (you can remove from refrigerator several hours ahead of serving).

Notes

*You can make the baked meringues up to a few weeks in advance, keeping them in an airtight container at room temperature.

**You can make the lemon curd up to a month ahead, keeping it in an airtight container in freezer.

***You can make the Swiss meringue buttercream up to a month ahead, storing it in an airtight container in freezer, bringing to room temperature on counter the night before needed.

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Sweetapolita’s Notes:

  • Because Swiss Meringue Buttercream and Lemon Curd both take a little longer to make than some other fillings/frosting, I recommend making both ahead of time, if possible. They freeze well, and the buttercream can be simply brought to room temperature the night before you need it. The curd can basically be used straight from the freezer. If you go ahead and make all of the components in one day, there’s a good chance you will be cursing my name at random throughout the day. But even if you do go this route, it will still be worth it.
  • You can make the baked meringues up to two weeks before you need the cake, just keep them in an airtight container at room temperature.
  • You can bake the cake layers the day before you need to assemble the cake and keep them at room temperature wrapped tightly in plastic wrap.
  • I use my the MAC Carving Knife for all of my cake trimming and slicing — it’s amazing.
  • For the Swirl Meringues and the Lemon Swiss Buttercream I used Americolor Electric Yellow Soft Gel Paste to achieve that particular shade of happy.
  • For the lemon drop decorations I used Claeys Lemon Sanded Candy Drops.
  • You can watch me frost a cake with smooth edges here.

Good luck & enjoy!


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Double Chocolate Gingerbread Cupcakes

Double Chocolate Gingerbread Cupcakes via Sweetapolita

So, it turns out I’ve been on a bit of a gingerbread kick lately . . .

I love sugar and spice and everything nice, and gingerbread (in any form) is such an old-fashioned treat that I can’t seem to get enough of (even though I seem to eat the entire year’s worth between December 1-December 31st). I make some form of gingerbread every year over the holidays, but yet it never dawned on me that pairing it with chocolate would be so delightful and that it would just all make so much sense . . . until, of course, I made Gingerbread Swiss Meringue Buttercream. Being an SMB (or SMBC) lover, I couldn’t resist tossing some gingerbread spices into a big fluffy batch of Brown Sugar Buttercream, making it the gingerbread variation, for swirling onto holiday cupcakes. I suddenly seem to be using Brown Sugar Buttercream often lately, because it’s such a wonderful base for so many variations (such as here and for the deliciousness that was Peanut Butter Buttercream.

The thing was, I knew I wanted to make little gingerbread cookie toppers, and if I had made gingerbread cupcakes to go along with the gingerbread buttercream, that would have made them triple gingerbread cupcakes which seemed a bit, well, spicy (although, that may not be a bad thing–I will try this and get back to you). For this round, adding some rich dark chocolate to the idea just felt right.

Double Chocolate Gingerbread Cupcakes via Sweetapolita

Then I remembered how much I’d wanted to try the chocolate cupcake recipe from a book I recently received: Making Cupcakes with Lola, which was written by the talented baker duo from Lola’s in the UK. This is one of the loveliest cupcake books I’ve read, and I’ve studied it for weeks–the cupcakes are a mix of classic and creative and the gorgeous photography & styling just brings it all to life.

I am eager to try many of their more unusual, or as they call it, “over the top” cupcakes (think Masala Chai Tea cupcakes, Gingerbread Latte cupcakes and more), but I couldn’t resist starting with their classic chocolate cupcake recipe. It stood out to me because they use both melted chocolate and cocoa powder and calls for no other liquid ingredient aside from 4 eggs. I was kind of intrigued! It’s a lighter, fluffier chocolate cake as opposed to the more fudgy oil-based chocolate cake I often use, which was a fun change, and I loved the double chocolate result.

Double Chocolate Gingerbread Cupcakes via Sweetapolita

So once I had my heart set on dark chocolate & gingerbread cupcakes, it dawned on me that my little gingerbread cookie toppers simply must be dipped in the finest dark chocolate — just makes good sense, right? I actually love making tiny gingerbread folk versus the standard size, because they are so cute and they are a perfect kid-sized treat. I was pretty excited when I remembered Reese having a teeny tiny house cutter in her playdough tool bin that was the perfect size for little chocolate gingerbread house toppers. So then we had a wee gingerbread girl and her wee gingerbread house. As far as we were concerned, it was kind of awesome. Why do things like this excite me so much? I’ll never know.

I hope you’re having a wonderful Saturday filled with holiday baking and hopefully, for your sake, no shopping! Personally, I like to keep the circus element of my day in our own four walls at this time of year, just as I am today. This thought would comfort me, if it weren’t for the fact that I have barely started my holiday shopping. Minor detail!

I’ll be back very soon with another holiday delight!

P.S. I’m pretty sure we’d jingle Santa’s bells if we left him a plate of these and a tall glass of milk. Maybe we could even add a pretty wrapped box of the chocolate dipped gingerbread cookies for his elves?

Double Chocolate Gingerbread Cupcakes          {click to print}

Double Chocolate Gingerbread Cupcakes = Lola’s Chocolate Cupcakes + Gingerbread Swiss Buttercream + Chocolate-Dipped Gingerbread Cookie Toppers

Lola’s Bakery Chocolate Cupcakes

*written (with permission) as it reads in the book, Making Cupcakes with Lola

Ingredients

100 g/3 1/2 oz dark bittersweet chocolate, chopped (I used Callebaut Dark Chocolate Callets)

175 g/1 1/2 sticks butter, cubed

225 g/1 cup plus 2 tablespoons (caster) sugar

4 eggs

100 g/3/4 cup self-rising flour

2 1/2 tablespoons cocoa powder (I used Cacao Barry Extra Brute Cocoa Powder)

a pinch of salt

Method

Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F/Gas 4.

1. Put the chocolate and butter in a heatproof bowl over a pan of simmering water. Do not let the base of the bowl touch the water. Heat, stirring, until the chocolate melts and you have a smooth, glossy mixture. Remove from the heat and stir in the sugar. Let cool for 10 minutes.

2. Now beat with an electric hand mixer for 3 minutes. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating for 10 seconds between each addition.

3. Sift the flour, cocoa and salt into the bowl and beat until blendid.

4. Divide the mixture between the muffin cases. Bake in the preheated oven and let cool completely on a wire rack before decorating.

Sweetapolita’s Notes

*Caster/castor sugar is also known as superfine sugar. You can create your own superfine sugar by substituting regular granulated sugar and processing it in a food processor until very fine.

**As with any cake or cupcake recipe I bake, I used room temperature eggs (not cold).

***I filled the cupcake liners a little more than I typically do, as I divided the batter evenly among the 12 liners, as directed. They were just over 2/3 full. I typically don’t prefer a “muffin-top” cupcake, but because I knew I wanted a wider cupcake to hold very billowy swirls of buttercream, I went with it. I may never look back.

Gingerbread Swiss Meringue Buttercream

Yield: ~5 cups, enough for filling and frosting an 8-inch round cake, or frosting 12+ cupcakes.

Ingredients

5 large egg whites (~150 grams/5 ounces)

1 1/4 cup (250 grams/8.5 ounces) dark brown sugar (you can also use light brown sugar)

1 1/2 cups (3 sticks,  340 grams/12 ounces/3/4 lb) unsalted butter, softened and cut into cubes

1/2 teaspoon ( mL) pure vanilla extract (I use Nielsen-Massey Vanillas 8-oz. Madagascar Bourbon Vanilla Extract)

1/2 teaspoon ground ginger

1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

a pinch of ground nutmeg

a pinch of salt

Method

1. Wipe the bowl and whisk attachment of an electric mixer with paper towel and lemon juice, to remove any trace of grease. Add egg whites and brown sugar and simmer over a pot of water (not boiling), whisking constantly but gently, until temperature reaches 140-160°F, or if you don’t have a candy thermometer, until the sugar has completely dissolved and the egg whites are hot, about 5 minutes if you used room temperature egg whites. About 8+ minutes if they were cold.

2. With whisk attachment of mixer, begin to whip until the meringue is thick, glossy, and the bottom of the bowl feels neutral to the touch (this can take up to 10 minutes or so and is so important–never add butter to warm meringue). Switch over to paddle attachment and, with mixer on low speed, add softened butter in chunks until incorporated, and mix until it has reached a silky smooth texture (if curdles, keep mixing on medium-low and it will come back to smooth).

3. Add vanilla, salt and spices, continuing to beat on low speed until well combined.

Sweetapolita’s Notes on Swiss Meringue Buttercream:

* Can make buttercream ahead and keep in an airtight container in refrigerator for up to one week, leaving out at room temperature when needed, re-whipping in mixer for 5 minutes.

** Can freeze for up to 6-8 weeks. To thaw, place on counter overnight, and rewhip for 5 minutes with paddle attachment in an electric mixer.

***If not satiny enough upon rewhip, take 1/3 of buttercream and microwave in a microwave-safe container for ~8 seconds, then add back to mixing bowl and remix with remaining buttercream.

****For more detail about making Swiss Meringue Buttercream, you can find my FAQ here and photo tutorial here.

Chocolate-Dipped Gingerbread Cookies

1. Bake your favourite gingerbread cookie dough, and cut desired shapes–I prefer bite-size cookies in general, especially when using them for cupcake toppers. For these cookies, I tried Martha’s Molasses-Gingerbread Cookies recipe, and I followed it to the letter. I love them because they are dark and have a very deep molasses taste. The dough is gorgeous–just note that you will likely need to add quite a bit of flour while rolling and you will need to flour your cutter often, otherwise it is quite sticky. Once baked, let cookies cool on wire rack. *I found my little house and gingerbread doll cutters in my little girl’s playdough tool box, so don’t feel you have to stick with traditional cookie cutters.

2. Melt some (depending on how many cookies you are covering) quality chocolate in the microwave, and if you follow this easy tempering process (when, using the microwave, your chocolate will be tempered in seconds, which is how we get the chocolate to harden with a nice sheen. For these cookies, I used Callebaut Dark Chocolate Callets, which is rich, dark and perfect for covering cookies and is intended for melting down.

3. Dip cookies into chocolate using two forks (or if you have a chocolate-dipping fork), covering entire cookie, or even just half, depending on the look you want to achieve, letting the excess chocolate drip back into bowl.

4. Place on Silpat or wax paper-lined cookie sheet.

5. Place filled sheet in the refrigerator for about 20 minutes to set.

Place upon cupcakes or simply eat them as they are. Or both! Store at room temperature.

Good luck & enjoy!


Related posts:

Art is Joy: Painted Chocolate Peanut Butter & Jelly Cakes

Painted Cakes via Sweetapolita

Every child is an artist. –Pablo Picasso

Happy Friday to you! This is a bit of a long (but colourful) post, guys, so you may want to grab a bucket of Skittles and a big glass of milk and get comfy. Heck, make it strawberry milk. Simply put, this post makes me happy. Art is joy and, well, cake isn’t half bad either. So, when I can marry most of my favourite things in life into one post, there’s no getting around it making me so happy. Let’s see, we’ve got colour + art + my cakelets + chocolate + cake + peanut butter buttercream . . . yep, that’s pretty much happiness in a nutshell.

Painted Cakes via Sweetapolita

Art is just a way of life at our house. Aside from my own colourful chaos that has seemingly taken over our home, I have been blessed with two small girls who both embrace art everyday. Sometimes all day. So, even though it adds to that colourful chaos I mentioned, I have started to encourage this love of theirs by leaving appropriate art supplies on every table in the house. And, well, the floor (see below). So as a matter of natural course, I often try to find a way to incorporate baking and caking into their love for arts and crafts. You may remember the Artist Palette & Paintbrush Cookies I created or the Rainbow Doodle Cake that Reese created for her 4th birthday using these pens: Americolor Food Marker Writers- 10 Color Pack. That was the very first time Reese had ever been such a big part of creating her own birthday cake, and she thought that was pretty awesome (as she should have–she’s quite the artist, if you ask me!). Well, I thought it would be super fun for her to do the same type of thing again, but by painting onto a white fondant cake. Since she spends almost all of her waking hours drawing & painting, I knew she’d be pretty enthusiastic about this one.

Painted Cakes via Sweetapolita

That cake would make even the Tin Man smile, don’t you think?

Painted Cakes via Sweetapolita

For those who may not be familiar with it, the “paint” is something that is often used in cake decorating for many effects, and is made by mixing non-toxic luster dust or petal dust with either clear lemon extract or vodka (which evaporates quickly). Luster & petal dusts are dry chalky-looking dusts that are sold in wee jars (about 2-4 grams) and come in dozens of colours. They can be used dry by brushing onto fondant and gumpaste (any frosting that is dry to the touch) for touches of colour or shimmer, or as we did here, used wet as “paint.” Although there are many types of dusts with varying shimmer-factor, luster dust is typically the shimmery dust (such as Super Gold 43-1233 Luster Dust 2g) and petal dusts are matte (such as Fuchsia Petal Dust, 4 grams). We used some of each with this painted cake.

Here’s what I was referring to above–even the floor has become a great spot for my little artists. If you happen to follow my Instagram photos, you might recognize this image of my cakelets colouring all over a huge piece of white photographer backdrop paper that had seen better days and I needed to replace. Sending a recycling message feels good too. I was going to save this once they were done, which I still will (I’m a bit nutty about keeping everything they do–I can’t seem to throw any of it away), but I decided to then use it as the surface top for this post’s photoshoot, complete with toddler scribbles and pre-schooler drawings. I love when things work out that way!

Painted Cakes via Sweetapolita

Because this project is really ideal for preschoolers up to adult, I was going to try to keep little toddler-Neve occupied by having her colour or paint at her own little “station” beside Reese, but there was no way she was letting that go. She wouldn’t leave her older sister’s side (literally) while Reese brainstormed her design. I’m estimating that this had 49% to do with sisterly affection and 51% to do with cake.

Painted Cakes via Sweetapolita

The longer you let your cake chill before painting, the more firm the buttercream and fondant will be, which is ideal for painting, because the little hands will be pressing into the cake a bit while they work. On a sidenote, contrary to what many will say, you can, and I always do, put your fondant-covered cakes in the refrigator while working on them to firm them up. Otherwise, you will end up with fingerprints and dents in your cake, especially when little ones may not realize.

Painted Cakes via Sweetapolita

Perhaps this was creative moral support. Or maybe Neve was plotting her cake-tasting plan.

Painted Cakes via Sweetapolita

An artist at work. I love photographing the kids in more candid situations, as it’s always evident in the photos when they are relaxed and in their element and, most of all, don’t realize they’re being photographed. I think what made this project even more special for her was that it wasn’t her birthday. It wasn’t her sister’s birthday. It wasn’t any holiday at all, but just a regular day.

Painted Cakes via Sweetapolita

 Painted Cakes via Sweetapolita

Because the alcohol in the vodka evaporates so quickly, it’s helpful to keep some nearby (and if you are hosting a birthday party and have a houseful of kids, you may or may not want to keep a martini glass nearby) to add a drop or so when needed. It’s best to keep the paint thin enough so that it glides on the cake but not too thin that the colours look diluted, because the best part about these dusts is that the colour is intense. The luster colours have such a lovely shimmer-quality to them, even once dry.

Painted PB&J Cakes via Sweetapolita

So what’s better than a hand-painted cake? A hand painted cake that is rich dark chocolate filled with the fluffiest and most satiny Peanut Butter Swiss Meringue Buttercream. For the PB&J version, I spread a thin layer of Bonne Maman Wild Blueberry Jam onto the cake before the buttercream. The other cakes I left as simply chocolate & peanut butter.The reason I did Peanut Butter Swiss Buttercream, rather than the more common sugar peanut butter frosting is that I wanted to put a really thick layer of filling and because it’s not too sweet, it really brings out the peanut butter flavour. Peanut butter & meringue? That is so right. Even though it’s not cloying sweet, it’s still ideal for kids, especially with this cake because the fondant is very sweet. I heard Reese tell her dad that “Mommy made an excellent choice with the icing,” so it sounds like this one could be a winner. I think she was just relieved that it didn’t have key lime in it–long story.

Art = Joy!

For those of you who also love all-things-colour, I can’t get enough of Design Seeds. Endless colour inspiration!

I also found this kids’ painting party idea absolutely darling.

Here’s the recipe and info on making these painted cakes:

Paintable Chocolate PB&J Cakes         {click to print all instructions}

Use your favourite chocolate cake recipe baked in 3 separate cake pans. I used this recipe and baked using 3 Fat Daddio’s Anodized Aluminum Oval Cake Pan, 9 Inch x 2 Inch. I put 500 grams/~17 ounces of batter in each, and made some cupcakes with the extra batter. I then sliced each cake in two when frosting. So in this case, I use 3 pans to yield 3 finished cakes ready to paint.

Peanut Butter Swiss Meringue Buttercream

Yield: ~10 cups of buttercream (enough to fill & frost 3 oval 9″ x 6″ cakes)

Ingredients

10 large egg whites (~300 grams/10 ounces)

2.5 cups (500 grams/17 ounces) light brown sugar

3 cups (1.5 lbs/680 grams) unsalted butter, softened and cut into cubes

2 teaspoons (10 mL) pure vanilla extract (I use Nielsen-Massey Vanillas 8-oz. Madagascar Bourbon Vanilla Extract)

3/4 cup (190 mL) Kraft (or other quality brand) smooth peanut butter, or to taste

Method

1. Wipe the bowl and whisk attachment of an electric mixer with paper towel and lemon juice, to remove any trace of grease. Add egg whites and brown sugar and simmer over a pot of water (not boiling), whisking constantly but gently, until temperature reaches 140°F, or if you don’t have a candy thermometer, until the sugar has completely dissolved and the egg whites are hot, about 8 minutes if you used room temperature egg whites. About 12 if they were cold. Just be sure you can’t feel any sugar crystals when you rub a small bit between your fingers.

2. Place the bowl back into the mixer, and with whisk attachment attached, begin to whip until the meringue is thick, glossy, and the bottom of the bowl feels neutral to the touch (this can take up to 10+ minutes or so). *Make sure your meringue is completely cool before adding butter–this may take much longer than you expect, but if the meringue is very stiff and still warm, just turn off mixer and wait until it has cooled. Switch over to paddle attachment and, with mixer on low speed, add softened butter in chunks until incorporated, and mix until it has reached a silky smooth texture (if curdles, keep mixing on medium-low and it will come back to smooth).

3. Add vanilla and peanut butter, and continue to beat on low speed until well combined. *It’s also pretty delightful to leave unblended swirls of peanut butter.

Notes:

1. You can easily cut this recipe in half, and essentially it is Brown Sugar Swiss Buttercream with peanut butter whipped in at the end, so you also make it minus the peanut butter, freeze it, and then whip in peanut butter when you’re ready to use. That way you have the option of 2 flavours in your freezer. It keeps frozen for ~2 months.

2. You can make buttercream ahead and keep in an airtight container in refrigerator for up to one week, leaving out at room temperature when needed, re-whipping in mixer for 5 minutes.

3. You can freeze for up to 6-8 weeks. To thaw, place on counter overnight, and rewhip for 5 minutes with paddle attachment in an electric mixer.

4. If not satiny enough upon rewhip, take 1/3 of buttercream and microwave in a microwave-safe container for ~8 seconds, then add back to mixing bowl and remix with remaining buttercream.

5. For more detail about making Swiss Meringue Buttercream, you can find FAQ here and photo tutorial here.

Assembly of the Paintable Chocolate PB&J Cakes (or Chocolate PB Cakes)

1. Wrap & chill cake layers in refrigerator for ~30 minutes.

2. Carefully slice each of the 3 cakes into 2, horizontally, using a very sharp, serrated knife. If your cake has domed, don’t worry about trimming it, as you can put the dome side face-down. Since it’s a 2 layer cake, you don’t want to waste any cake by trimming it away.

3. Place first cake layer on a plate or cake board face up, and spread a thin layer of blueberry (or other desired flavour) jam onto the cake. Then spread a 1″ thick layer of Peanut Butter Swiss Buttercream on top, smoothing with an offset spatula. You can omit the jam, if desired, or do some with and some without.

4. Place top layer cut side down (or up if your cake is domed). Cover with a thin layer of the buttercream using an offset spatula and chill until set, about 30 minutes. You can also place in freezer for about 15 minutes. This seals in all of the crumbs. *You must chill the cake at this point to allow for a smooth, crumb-free top layer of frosting.

5. Once chilled and set, add a thick layer of buttercream, trying to get it as smooth as possible using your offset palette knife.

6. Roll out 1 lb 2oz (~525 grams) of white fondant (I love Satin Ice Rolled Fondant – White – Vanilla – 2.5 kg) on a smooth surface dusted with icing sugar or cornstarch, or you can use a fondant mat (I always use Ateco 24 x 36 Inch Fondant Work Mat) until it’s about 1/8″ thick or a little thicker. If your buttercream isn’t completely smooth, you will want to make the fondant on the slighlty thicker side to mask those imperfections (definitely no thicker than 1/4″). Transfer the rolled fondant onto the cake using a rolling pin and gently lay over the cake. Working quickly, smooth the fondant all over the cake using your hands and/or fondant smoothers (I use Wilton Easy Glide Fondant Smoother), working from the top down. Trim the excess fondant from the bottom of the cake using a small sharp knife. Smooth rough edges with a small palette knife. Chill for at least 1 hour.

7. Take selected lustre dust powders and tap small amount into a paint palette or small ramekins. Add a few drops of clear lemon or vanilla extract and blend with small paintbrush. *You can not use water. You can use clear alcohol, such as vodka, as it evaporates when dry. Once your liquid is added, you now have…edible paint! You will need a paintbrush designated for each colour.

8. Remove cake from refrigerator. The fondant may “sweat” a little, which causes it to be a bit tacky at first, but as long as your home isn’t extremely humid, this will evaporate fairly quickly and be ready for painting.

9. Let the child (0r, ahem, yourself) paint until their heart’s content.

10. Wash brushes, blot with paper towel, and let air dry. Wash paint bowls or palette.

Other colourful ideas:

1. Make mini cakes, say 4″ rounds, and let each child at a birthday party paint their own, then pack it up for them to take home as their “loot bag,” to show their parents.

2. Create an entire party around the painting theme. Art parties are so popular right now, and for good reason. They are awesome!

3. You could make these cookies as party favours.

4. You could create this rainbow cake for the inside of the painted cakes, for a real hit of colour.

5. You could create a mix of colouring and painting sweets for a party using the Americolor Food Marker Writers- 10 Color Pack + edible paints.

Whoa…that was a lot of info in one hit. Feel free to leave any questions below, and, as always, I’d love to hear your comments and/or experiences with this cake.

What would you paint on a pure white porcelain-finish cake?

Good luck & enjoy!



Related posts:

Inside-Out Neapolitan Cupcakes & More About Swiss Meringue Buttercream

Inside-Out Neapolitan Cupcakes

Happy Thursday! You know what’s funny? That very greeting always makes me laugh at myself, but yet I can’t help but write it — “Happy Thursday!” It’s so enthusiastic and peppy, yet, truthfully, when I’m composing these posts, 99% of the time it’s late at night, once the girls are asleep, and I’m often exhausted and feeling not even a wee bit exclamation mark-ish. Somehow, though, my inner enthusiast manages to get that out and keep it there. And not once, but twice: I had actually deleted it a few seconds after writing it, but then there it is again! Oh, and yet another. It’s a condition, I’m certain.

Before I get started with tonight’s post, I’m excited to announce the winner of this gorgeous print of the original painting “Violetta and the Tiny Tea Set” by Vanessa Valencia, (the incredible talent behind A Fanciful Twist) . This prize is courtesy of Vanessa, as a sweet gesture to one of my readers who visited and commented on my last post, “Ruffles & Roses: A Mad(ish) Tea Party.”  I was the lucky honorary guest this year to Vanessa’s popular virtual Mad Tea Party, and I had so much fun stepping even one pink-painted toe into her magical world. She is so unbelievably talented, and I adore her. So, the winner is…

#25 Bourbonnatrix: “Oh Rosie, what a pretty tea party! Love LOVE your cakes and sweets. Absolutely beautiful, and the rain, on some pics made it that much more special :) Great post!”

Congratulations, Bourbonnatrix (and thank you for the sweet words)!

So, tonight I want to chat about this fun cupcake version of my Inside-Out Neapolitan Cakes (truly, one of my favourites), and I also want to talk more about Swiss Meringue Buttercream. Would you believe that I get more emails with Swiss Meringue Buttercream related questions than anything else? Many readers write to tell me how it’s changed their lives, and they adore it with all of their being, and others write perplexed and filled with questions about troubleshooting, or just general concerns, etc. I thought it may be helpful to shed more light on the topic of the beloved Swiss Meringue Buttercream tonight, based on your questions and experiences.

I’ll quickly talk about these yummy cupcakes, which are, incidentally, filled with 3 flavours of Swiss Meringue Buttercream. A few months back I decided to turn a few of my favourite cake recipes/combinations into cupcakes, and it was a lot of fun and kind of a refreshing change from lofty layer cakes. After posting about the Campfire Delight Cupcakes, followed by the Dark Chocolate & Raspberry Buttercream Cupcakes, this was my third cake-into-cupcake experience, and they were as flavourful and moist as the mama version, but definitely a simpler alternative for those who don’t feel like embarking upon the layer cake process. If you do make the layer cake (and I do urge you to; it’s a crowd pleaser!), the cupcakes are a great addition to it — you can bake a quick batch of the cupcakes and then use your remaining Swiss Meringue Buttercream trio and fill the cupcakes. Who wouldn’t love their own little layered Neapolitan cupcake?

Inside-Out Neapolitan Cake via Sweetapolita

So here is the original Inside-Out Neapolitan Cake: 3 layers of a southern take on Devil’s Food Cake, including some rich and decadent ingredients such as mayonnaise, butter, and, of course, my favourite cocoa powder, (Cacao Barry Cocoa Powder – Extra Dark), which makes every chocolate cake rich and incredibly chocolaty, in my opinion, and filled with a layer of each Chocolate, Vanilla, and Strawberry Swiss Meringue Buttercream. I particularly love the contrast of the cloud-like buttercream and the rich chocolate cake, and when the Neapolitan flavour combination comes from the filling and not the cake itself, it adds an interesting (and delicious) dynamic to Neapolitan cake.

Inside-Out Neapolitan Cupcakes

For the layered cupcake effect, I simply baked the cupcakes as muffins (in greased and floured muffin tins with no cupcake liners), and then, once cooled, sliced each one into 3, then piped each flavour of Swiss Meringue Buttercream between and on top, then added some chocolate sprinkles. I was happy with the cake-to-buttercream ratio in the end, after worrying it would be too much buttercream. The Swiss Meringue Buttercream is not overpowering, so is the perfect pairing to these cupcakes, and the dark, rich, southern Devil’s Food Cake can definitely hold its own surrounded by all three flavours. If you’d like to try these, I’ve included the recipe below. In the meanwhile, I want to chat more about making, using, eating, and storing Swiss Meringue Buttercream.

Swiss Meringue Buttercream, or SMB, or SMBC as most call it can be an intimidating endeavour, but, honestly, once you get the hang of it, you may never look back. Let’s just get it all out in the open right  now. Truly, let’s just stay up all night talking it through until we’ve run the gamut of emotions and can, finally, share a group hug and skip off into the horizon, armed with our whisks and unwavering confidence to make it, use it, and decorate with it. Since this post comes as an answer to your emails and questions following my previous post, Swiss Meringue Buttercream Demystifyed, I’ll put it in point form and  Q&A format, and hopefully I cover it all. So, let us talk Swiss Meringue Buttercream (SMB):

*If you would simply like to read the cupcake and buttercream recipe, they are at the bottom of this post.

A few quick facts about my deep and meaningful relationship with Swiss Meringue Buttercream:

1. No, I didn’t invent SMB, but I love its not-too-sweet taste and satiny texture, and I use it for all of my wedding cakes, gourmet cakes, and even many casual cakes and cupcakes. I’m not an SMB expert, but I make it often, love it, and was taught how to make it by professionals at Bonnie Gordon Confectionary College in Toronto.

2. The first time I tried SMB, I was used to sugary confectioners’ sugar-based , and I didn’t like the taste of SMB at all; I felt it tasted oily and too buttery. I didn’t think there was hope  for my converting to an SMB lover, or even liker.

3. I still love sugary frostings from time to time (as you will see some of my other posts), but once I acquired a taste for it, SMB quickly became my favourite frosting (after a few tries).

4. The first few times I made SMB, I used a lower grade butter, and it would not hold  my batch together; it wasn’t creamy, or satiny, but rather almost separated. It wasn’t until I was advised to try a better quality butter, that I figured out how to make the ultimate batch of SMB. I now use only premium butter, with my favourite being Lactancia.

5. One of my favourite treats in the entire world, and out of everything I’ve ever made, is a dark chocolate cake frosted with vanilla Swiss Meringue Buttercream. It’s just that good.

Now, onto the questions and answers:

Q: My SMB was coming along fine, but then, once I added all of the butter, it was still too runny. What did I do wrong, and is there hope at this stage?

A:Yes, there is hope! Actually, there’s nothing hopeless about this situation, but rather just an extra step involved. If you added your butter and the SMB is still runny, then 1 of 2 things (or both) has likely happened, in my opinion: 1. Your butter was much too soft (should be cool, but  not cold, which is about 20 minutes out of fridge for me) when you added it to your meringue. 2. Your meringue was still too warm when you started adding the butter. Be patient, because I know it takes seemingly forever for the bottom of the mixing bowl to feel neutral before you add the butter, but it needs to be, or, as you can imagine, the butter essentially melts when you add it. As for repairing this runny batch, you can take the entire mixing bowl, cover it, and place it in the fridge until it chills up a bit, say 30 minutes or so (or even in the freezer for 15 or so), and then re whip. It’s not an exact science, as far as how many minutes, or how cold, etc, but I can tell you this: in my experience, it is practically impossible to ruin a batch of SMB to the point of no repair. If your meringue has whipped up nicely, then you can get away with a lot from that point on, and it’s most often fixable. I promise, promise, promise!

Q: My SMB suddenly curdled, and looked like scrambled eggs in the bowl. Why did it do this, and is it ruined?

A: It often does hit this “scrambled egg” stage, and this happens to my batches occasionally as well. Basically, from what I can tell, this happens when the meringue is a little “shocked” by butter that is too cold, but after mixing for a few more moments, the butter blends in nicely, and it magically becomes smooth and satiny. Is it ruined? Never!

Q: I had no problem making my SMB, and it looked so beautiful and satiny, but when I tasted it, it tasted like pure butter. What did I do wrong?

A:You did nothing wrong, and I have a feeling you did everything right! Here’s the thing about SMB: It tastes much like butter and not a lot like sugary sugar, which to many is the draw, but if you are used to sugary frostings, chances are your palate hasn’t developed the tastebuds for SMB yet, and you simply aren’t used to it. There is also a chance that you just don’t like it – as with any food, it’s not for everyone. If you’re making it for fun, for your own friends and family, you may want to stick with the frostings you love, and revisit it at a later time, or not at all. If you’re aspiring to make wedding cakes and gourmet cakes, you will likely need to continue making it, in which case, trust me, you will probably find yourself licking the bowl and spatula clean, begging for more, a few batches down the road. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Q: Why do I have to use pure vanilla extract in my SMB when I have imitation vanilla extract on hand? Will anyone taste the difference?

A:If we’re being honest, then yes, they will. And so will you, I imagine. You have to keep in mind that sugary frosting (those made with icing sugar/confectioners’ sugar) are dominated by the taste of sugar, and the vanilla can be a little overpowered by the intense sweetness. With SMB, the sugar takes a backseat (albeit delightfully sweet, it’s still subtle), and the flavours, let it be simply vanilla, or others, shine through. That’s why it’s such a great base for almost any flavour you can dream of: coffee, liqueur, citrus, chocolate, berries, and more. It’s also important to add that pinch of salt, particularly when opting for vanilla flavoured SMB, because no, it doesn’t result in a salty flavoured frosting, but it really pulls the true flavours out — kind of crazy, but true.

Q: I refrigerated my SMB, then thawed it on the counter overnight, as suggested, but when I went to use it on my cake, it wasn’t satiny or smooth anymore, but rather airy and thick. What can I do to fix it?

A: The great thing about SMB is that it can be made in big batches and frozen, or refrigerated for up to a week. The only thing is you need to take a moment to reconstitute it back to its glorious satiny texture when you’re ready to use it. If it’s frozen or refrigerated, you need to thaw it at room temperature; this can take overnight if it’s frozen, and several hours if it’s refrigerated. There are a few ways you can revive it, but I do 1 of 2 things: 1. I take the thawed (but sometimes still cool) SMB in a microwavable container, and I warm it up for about 10 seconds, then remove container from microwave and stir it aggressively with a rubber spatula in kind of a back and forth motion, repeatedly until it’s smooth. If I think I need to warm it up a bit more, I microwave again but am careful not to melt it. I mix it really well with the spatula, to remove the air bubbles. 2. I take about 1/3 of the SMB I thawed and I warm it up by the above method, and put the remaining 2/3 in the electric mixer bowl. I add the 1/3 warmed SMB to the 2/3 cool SMB and mix on medium or medium-high speed with the paddle attachment (flat beater) until smooth and satiny.

Q: After I make my SMB, and add gel food colour to it, the SMB seems to “reject” the colour. What am I doing wrong?

A:I’ve been asked this question many times, and I hate to do this, I really do, but it’s seemingly the truth: In my experience, using Wilton brand colours are the culprit here. I know this can be an issue as far as availability goes, because sometimes the premium colour brands such as Sugarflair, Americolor, and Ateco colours are difficult to get, particularly outside of North America, but if you find you will be doing this kind of work often, I personally feel it would be worth it to get your hands on these colours.

Q: Is SMB stable enough to pipe such things as flowers, basketweave, etc.?

A:Yes! SMB is what you will see Martha Stewart uses for all of these techniques, and for good reason: it’s so light and fluffy yet super stable and resilient. Kind of perfection, really.

Q: Once my cake is frosted in SMB, does it have to be refrigerated?

A: Well, you know, it seems that all baker’s have a different opinion on this topic, but all I can do is tell you what I do. Many will tell you that it’s okay to leave SMB frosted cakes out for a few days, but, personally I like to refrigerate my cakes overnight, and then take them out first thing in the morning so that they are nice and soft and fluffy when I serve them. If I’m making it on the day of serving, I would just keep it out. I just find that Swiss Meringue Buttercream that is too warm isn’t appealing, and it if it’s too cool, it’s too buttery in texture. Definitely a fine line, but mostly, it’s just heaven.

I hope this helps in some way! All of that being said, I promise you with all my heart that it’s A. Not really as difficult as it may seem, and B. Even if it was, it’s worth it!

Inside-Out Neapolitan Cupcakes

Yield: 18 layered cupcakes

Ingredients

    For the Cupcakes:
  • 6 tablespoons (85 g) unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 cup (230 g) packed dark brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon (5 ml) pure vanilla extract
  • 1 large egg, at room temperature
  • 1 egg yolk, at room temperature
  • 3/4 cup + 2 teaspoons (115 g) all-purpose flour
  • 6 tablespoons (38 g) unsweetened Dutch-processed cocoa powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon (3 g) baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon (3 g) baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon (5 g) kosher salt
  • 3/4 cup (180 ml) buttermilk, at room temperature
  • 2 tablespoons (30 ml) mayonnaise
  • For the Swiss Meringue Buttercream:
  • 5 large fresh egg whites (150 g)
  • 1-1/4 cup (250 g) superfine granulated sugar
  • 1-1/2 cups (340 g) (3 sticks) unsalted butter, softened, cut into cubes
  • 2 teaspoons (10 ml) pure vanilla extract
  • pinch of salt

Instructions

    For the Cupcakes:
  1. Preheat oven to 350° F. Butter and flour standard cupcake pans as you would for muffins, tapping out the excess.
  2. In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter, brown sugar, and vanilla on medium-high speed until lighter in color and slightly increased in volume, about 5 minutes. Lower the speed to medium and add the eggs, one at a time, mixing until each is fully incorporated before adding the next.
  3. Sift the flour, cocoa powder, baking soda and baking powder into a medium bowl. Add the salt to the dry ingredients after sifting, and whisk dry ingredients.
  4. Alternate dry ingredients and buttermilk into creamed mixture, beginning and ending with dry ingredients. Mix until just incorporated, or finish by hand gently.
  5. Fold mayonnaise into batter with a whisk, until just blended.
  6. Fill cupcake pans 2/3 each (I like to use a 1.5 oz cookie scoop) and bake for approximately 17 minutes, or until a skewer inserted into center of cupcakes comes out just barely clean (a few crumbs). This works well for moist chocolate cake (not vanilla).
  7. Let cupcakes cool on wire rack for 10 minutes, then gently remove from pan and continue to cool on a wire rack. Let cool completely.
  8. For the Swiss Meringue Buttercream:
  9. Wipe the bowl of an electric mixer with paper towel and lemon juice, to remove any trace of grease. Add egg whites and sugar, and simmer over a pot of water (not boiling), whisking constantly but gently, until temperature reaches 160°F, or if you don't have a candy thermometer, until the sugar has completely dissolved and the egg whites are hot.
  10. Place bowl back on mixer and fit with whisk attachment. Whip until the meringue is thick, glossy, and the bottom of the bowl feels neutral to the touch (this can take up to 10 minutes, or longer). Switch over to paddle attachment and, with mixer on low speed, add softened butter in chunks until incorporated, and mix until it has reached a silky smooth texture (if curdles, keep mixing and it will come back to smooth).
  11. Add vanilla and salt, continuing to beat on low speed until well combined.
  12. You can also add a wide variety of flavourings, extracts, and more, but always add the vanilla first, as it brings out the true taste of the other flavours.
  13. Assembly of the Inside-Out Neapolitan Cupcakes:
  14. Divide buttercream evenly into 3 bowls. Flavour 1/3 chocolate, 1/3 strawberry, and leave final 1/3 vanilla (using instructions above). Add a few drops of pink gel colour to strawberry buttercream.
  15. Using a very sharp serrated knife, slice cupcakes twice, horizontally, resulting in 3 "layers."
  16. Fill one layer of each flavour (chocolate, strawberry, and vanilla), and top with sprinkles, if desired.
  17. Best eaten at room temperature on the day they were made, but can be stored in an airtight container for up to 3 days (in refrigerator overnight).

Notes

*Keep in airtight container in refrigerator for up to one week, leaving out at room temperature when needed, re-whipping in mixer for 5 minutes.

**Can freeze for up to 6-8 weeks. To thaw, place on counter overnight, and rewhip for 5 minutes with paddle attachment in an electric mixer.

***For Chocolate Buttercream, add 150 g (3/4 cup) melted bittersweet Belgian chocolate (the best you can get--I use Callebaut) to Vanilla Swiss Meringue Buttercream and beat until incorporated.

****For Strawberry Buttercream, add strawberry puree to taste, OR a few drops of LorAnn Strawberry Flavor Oil.

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Southern Devil’s Cake Recipe adapted from Fine Cooking, by David Guas.

Happy Canada Day to my fellow Canadians, and Happy Independence Day to our American friends! Wishing you all a safe and happy weekend!

Good luck & enjoy!

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